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Brief History of the Office of the Northwestern District Attorney

The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office is now entering its fifth decade as a trailblazer in creative approaches to the problems of community crime.  Under District Attorney Sullivan, it continues this historic role as it expands the scope of its crime prevention efforts, increases its community education programs and expands its collaborative prosecution/police projects.

District Attorneys were created in 1855, when the Legislature divided Massachusetts into nine prosecutorial zones and the Governor appointed a lawyer to accuse and prosecute the perpetrators of crime within their region. 

Ithmar Conkey, of Amherst, who studied law under Emily Dickinson’s father, was appointed the first District Attorney of the Northwestern District, which encompassed both Hampshire and Franklin counties. 

In 1856, the position became elective and the term was for three years until 1902 when it was increased to the present  four. The present District Attorney, David E. Sullivan, is the 28th Northwestern District Attorney, three of whom were appointed to fill vacancies and only served for short periods.

District Attorney John Callahan (1971-1979), the first modern District Attorney, pioneered Victim Witness Assistance Programs and created the state’s first Consumer Protection Bureau.

Full-time District Attorneys and Assistants were introduced in 1979.

The Public Protection Bureau, the Civil Rights Advisory Committee, the Police Education Initiative and the Child Sexual Assault Investigation Unit were all created in the mid-1980s. 

-- Courtesy of former Northwestern District Attorney Michael Ryan